The End of Word of Warcraft?

I take a walk through my long history of association with Blizzard games. An association that may soon end one way or the other.

World of Warcraft feels like it’s stuck in a hamster wheel: a cycle of promise, repentance, and action that never actually improves the game in any tangible way because each new expansion wipes the slate clean just as the last one was starting to improve.

pcgamer.com

When Blizzard announced their intention to create a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMO or MMORPG) out of their Warcraft real time strategy (RTS) gaming franchise, I dismissed it out of hand:

World of Warcraft? Oh, Diablo with no set storyline and no ending. That’s stupid.

That was me in 2003 while I was finishing Warcraft III’s expansion The Frozen Throne and reacting to the included teaser for the soon to be released World of Warcraft. I liked RTS gaming and I didn’t like the online gaming world very much; much less have the time and money to devote to one game out of the many that I was already playing at the time.

People who aren’t immersed in gaming culture may not understand the differences between these kinds of games. I can understand the confusion. The story I’m going to tell with this article may or may not require you to understand the varying kinds of games I’m going to talk about, the story of the evolution of World of Warcraft itself that I want this article to be about, but let’s start on this journey and see where it takes us anyway.

Diablo was a basic multiplayer game that Blizzard created alongside their Warcraft and Starcraft head-to-head or RTS games back in the 1990’s. Diablo was out at the same time as Ultima Online in 1997. It was very similar to what the first MMO’s looked like in testing, although it’s limited online access made it more playable than most of the original MMOs. The networks were slow and not very dependable back then. Diablo was a local area network (LAN) game that you could play competitively or cooperatively with other people on your local network. Basically; you could play with anyone who had a computer physically connected to your computer, back in the days before everything was online.

As everything online all the time began to become a thing, Diablo moved online with Diablo II and it’s online network, following the examples of the earlier entries, the first true MMOs; and with the birth of online networked games was born griefing and corpse camping and a whole host of toxic behaviors among gamers that are too numerous to mention. The fact that I recognized World of Warcraft as a directionless version of Diablo II, with the activities in-game being even less directed than the pretty one-directional type of play that Diablo II allowed, explains why I’m not a fan of player versus player (PvP) or competitive gaming in any form. In Diablo II you could have open world games that anyone could join; and most of the time what you got when you created an open-world game that anyone could join was griefers and con-artists that screwed you out of loot and left you dead while they laughed at you. This was in a game that had no market to speak of, and so no reason to screw over other players other than just to be mean at someone else’s expense. This kind of behavior happened more often than not, a sad observation on the quality of the average online human being.

That was my first experience with PvP play. This is why I still don’t PvP much and I don’t like PvP unless I’m ganking players as a rogue or healing on a Resto Druid or a Holy Paladin. A shiv in the back is what the average opponent deserves because payback is a bitch. Give me a class that can shiv you and steal honor from you as a designed game interaction, and I’m going to be there feeling your pulse through the pommel of my dagger. But enough about my personal revenge fantasies.

On November 23, 2004, the succubus of MMORPGs was born:

MadSeasonShowWorld of Warcraft – Pandora’s Box – Dec 24, 2021

It’s strategy of appealing to the casual gamer worked well. A little too well. Blizzard in now way was ready for the frenzy of players eager to get into the world. Disconnects, Rollback and lag would persist heavily throughout the opening months and still consistently though the next couple of years.

Forums daily would be filled with outrage, demands for a refund and even threats of lawsuits. The miraculous thing about it though is that it didn’t even seem to slow it’s growth.

It is the succubus because World of Warcraft sucked the life out of all the other MMOs that existed before it and took down many a challenger through its long years of existence since.

To say I was less than enthusiastic about World of Warcraft would be an understatement. I only started playing the game because a friend asked me to help him keep his online gaming hobby going for a little bit longer. He was dying of cancer. I was about to commit suicide. He saw my depression and despair and he threw me a lifeline in the form of connection through online gaming that essentially saved my life:

I showed up in the game as it was changing from Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King, about the same time that Activision bought Vivendi and Blizzard, although I didn’t know it then. From the start I restricted myself to servers that did not allow World PvP combat unless the players are interested in engaging in that type of play by marking themselves PvP. It was the reassurance that I did not have to engage in PvP if I wanted to that gave me the room to explore World of Warcraft in the first place. I wasn’t interested in participating in other people’s fantasies about blood and glory, especially if I was exploring or experiencing the lore and atmospherics of the world that Blizzard created. Open world PvP has never appealed to me, just as open world boss fights never appealed to me. I avoid both if I can.

Wrath of the Lich King (Wrath) fixed the thing that most annoyed me about The Burning Crusade (BC) as I experienced it. Leveling in BC was a solitary affair, a slightly less grindy experience than the original game had been. The only way that you could find players to play low-level content with was to join a guild and hope to find players who were at the same level that you were. It was almost impossible to find someone out in the world at your level who was looking to complete multiplayer areas at the same time that you were, much less find four other players to complete a multi-hour five man dungeon. In all the time I played BC I only found a dungeon group once and that experience was not a positive one.

Then came Wrath and it was suddenly possible to find a group to do things together with. For the first time in my experience playing WoW it became possible to complete the content as I imagined that the developers had intended. It was only one of many social changes to the game itself, but the Looking for Group (LFG) system made the game actually playable for the first time.

Time flies when you are having fun. Time flew for me in Wrath, Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria despite my dissatisfaction with several points of gameplay along the way. Time flew until I hit the wall of the Iron Horde and Warlords of Draenor, of having Khadgar lead me by the hand through content that seemed exceptionally tailored to waste the maximum amount of player time.

They took away my flying mounts that I had paid for with real money, because they wanted to make sure that you had to fight your way, repeatedly, through barriers put there just to slow you down in completing parts of the game that required you to move across the map repetitively. Gone with my ability to fly was my interest in professions, an integral part of the game for me up to that point.

No more crafting my own gear, feeding my own toons, crafting time-saving devices for my raiding guild. It would take too much time to get around to get the materials for these things. Gone was the pet battling side game, gone was the possibility of doing archeology (not that I liked it that much to begin with) gone was my fun.

Instead of taking the time to make the story of the Iron Horde interesting for all players (Alliance players deemed the Alpha of the game too Horde centered and so the developers removed whole swaths of planned content) they put all the focus of gameplay into running random dungeons. The raiders I played with were so focused on just running random dungeons until hitting max level that I decided I wouldn’t queue for dungeons at all. After two long years the next expansion of the game, Legion was finally released and I penned:

I canceled my subscription to World of Warcraft for the first time since I started paying them for monthly access in 2008. I spent almost two years away from the game, playing whatever I liked as I had done for many, many years before that. I played other Blizzard games as well as games from other companies. I came back to the game because I missed my friends that I had established over the years raiding with them. I came back and started to play again in order to experience the content for Legion before it too became surpassed, like all the other expansions before it.

I pre-purchased Battle for Azeroth, and why not? The game developers had decided that they would not keep me from flying in-game, taking away content that I had paid money for and could rightly sue over if they were still doing business and claiming that the game that I had paid for was still active. I was ecstatic from a player’s perspective. Was it as good as it could have been? No, but then it was worlds better than Warlords of Dreanor was even before they took out half the content for that expansion.

Battle for Azeroth was by far the best expansion to be released since at least Wrath. The gameplay seemed designed to bring the players back to the original game and the intent of the original game and its associated lore. So many of the areas were designed to remind the players of content from previous games (Did anyone else see Nazmir for the first time and say “ah, Flayer Jungle? I thought so) I just didn’t do the mindlessly repetitive islands or worry too much about the world battle zones that seemed pretty pointless. But then came Shadowlands, the current expansion.

The less said about Shadowlands, the better. I only bought this expansion so that I could continue raiding with my guildmates; and I only enjoyed that part of the game, the story being so patently not part of World of Warcraft lore that I failed to see why most of my characters would ever go there other than to save the soul of Azeroth (who knew Azeroth had a soul? A world-soul? Anyone? Apparently this was a thing revealed in Legion, if you read between the lines or read the books) an utterly forgettable expansion, all in all. Like BC, I won’t be going back to play this part of the game again.

There are human concepts thrown out as dialog by non-player characters that is contradicted by events that are preceded or followed by the dialog. “I will not serve” being uttered by a character that has demonstrably been serving for the master who calls others to his service in front of her. Being told that “the void and the light have no power here” on the way to participating in a event where the void attempts to destroy Bastion; and the light is used as a weapon to punish another faction, the Venthyr in another part of the story. We run around as players and kill eternal spirits in the realms of death. Where do these spirits go? Is it afterlives all the way down? It’s silly. It’s poor storytelling. It makes me want to log off and play something else.

The next expansion for World of Warcraft, Dragonflight, is due out by the end of the year, and once again I find myself wondering why I’m playing this game at all. Dragons are great, but I think there’s a fly in the ointment here, Blizzard.

In a tweet earlier this week, Nguyen explained that Blizzard made approximately $2.6M in sales for the crowdfunding toy, but only increased the AWC prize pool by $50K.

esportsobserver.com

Activision Blizzard has a few problems of its own to work out before they can convince me that spending money on their games is a thing that I want to do again.

Classic World of Warcraft?

It began with Nostalrius, an independent server running a mock-up of the original version of World of Warcraft’s server software. Activision Blizzard was able to get the server shut down, but the player demand that they have access to the classic game was loud enough that the owners of the content relented and allowed a competing version of their own game to exist on their own servers.

Classic WoW came into existence at the end of 2019 and for those of us who played it, the downsides of the original game were there to be cataloged. No guild banks. They weren’t in vanilla/classic. No way to realistically find guilds within the game structure itself. It is a lie that Blizzard tells, when it claims that Classic WoW is exactly the way it was when the game was introduced. It is not. The player base is different and there are significant differences in Blizzard’s monetization strategy visible in the purchase offerings for those classic games.

With the roll-out of Classic Burning Crusade you can now boost to get to BC content, for the first time ever. That is one example. I would have loved to have that option available to me when I subscribed back in 2008. Maybe I would have understood then that real gameplay only occurs at max level as far as Blizzard and the players it caters to are concerned. That would have been a highly valued bit of information, and it would have saved me an immense amount of time trying to play a completionist version of World of Warcraft. Just run to max level and skip the distractions. That would be the advice I offer new players today.

The original game and Burning Crusade still remain flawed in crucial ways. There is no system in-game for organizing groups and doing the one thing that MMO’s were set up to do; namely play in massively multiplayer areas of the game. There are no guild advantages in-game aside from the ability to create a guild. There is no guild bank in the original game, making organizing groups the only reason to have a guild since joining a guild is the only way to organize anything in-game. Cross-server looking for group and looking for raid functions did not exist until late in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, with patch 3.3.0 Fall of the Lich King. This makes dungeoning and raiding in both World of Warcraft and Burning Crusade the same kind of torture it always was, with one crucial difference.

In the classic versions of the game, there are elitist players who cater to the newbs so long as they obtain large quantities of in-game currency to pay them with. The black market for gold has never been larger or more vibrant than it is in World of Warcraft Classic. You are constantly barraged with offers (WTS) to lead you through dungeons on the public text channels. Just have a fat purse for them to loot in the process and you are good to go. Raids remain the domain of guilds and elites that come prepared to join the few pick-up groups that do manage to be created in the hobbled universe that was World of Warcraft and Burning Crusade.

I would have been more impressed with Blizzard’s classic roll-out if they had put forth the effort to incorporate the classic game into the current retail version of World of Warcraft, allowing all the expansions to be played directly together from one login. I erroneously assumed that was the reason that they proposed the level squish at the beginning of Shadowlands. With max level returning to level 60, all raids could be played at max level as if they were current content! What a feast that would have been to experience. Alas, they did not take that route and instead made everything before Shadowlands irrelevant to end-game play; just as each succeeding expansion has made previous content not only irrelevant, but apparently despised and envied in the eyes of the programmers who created it.

As they said when fans were putting the Nostalrius server together:

Why would anyone want to play that old game?

Apparently they have figured out that there is money to be mined from nostalgia, just as Hollywood did the first time they remade a silent and then black and white movie. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Vanilla WoW is as gone as 2008. I’m certain I don’t want to go back to 2008, either.

Wrath Ain’t Gonna Be Classic, Either

The proposed Classic version of Blizzard’s third expansion of World of Warcraft is premiering soon, and I have extremely mixed feelings on the subject; even though, as I’ve said many times, it is my favorite expansion of the game. Blizzard announced several weeks ago that they will be removing the dungeon finder tool that came with Wrath in the initial release and won’t be rolling out the looking for group/raid tools that came out with the Icecrown Citadel raid shortly before the end of that expansion of the game.

When I heard this news I resolved that I wasn’t going to be playing the game. It won’t be Classic. Classic would be slavishly following the patterns that evolved over the course of the expansion, just like they’ve slavishly done with the crappy group interface that was present in the original game and the slightly less crappy group interface that was in Burning Crusade. To this day there still aren’t guild banks in Classic unless the guild sets aside alternate characters to act as guild banks and all the risk that operation entails. The guild-finding interface is essentially non-existent and the same goes for group-finding.

I understand this slavish devotion to the past for what it is. The developers know the game is broken in this area. The players know the game is broken, but they liked their work-arounds for it better than the work-arounds that Blizzard introduced with Wrath and then evolved with each expansion after that one. The developers and the accountants at Blizzard want to make sure that the best version of World of Warcraft is the current version and not the classic version, that is what this slavish devotion to history represents. They created competition for their current content development based on player demand, but they want to make sure that if you want the most inclusive feel to your gameplay, you have to play the retail version of World of Warcraft, pay for the retail version of the game.

Their decision to not include the first cludgy version of Raid Finder/Looking For Group proves this base motivation of theirs. There will be no attempt to make the Classic games more playable than they initially were. Which is a sad development from a player’s perspective.

No Easy Fix Even With Dragons

This isn’t about making things easier. The Wife has said for years addons are cheating, and I understand what she means by that observation. If you walked into a Shadowlands raid without installing Deadly Boss Mods (DBM) or some equivalent raid training software, you’d be dead within a few minutes. I use DBM and the Raid Finder available in retail WoW together as a replacement for watching videos about particular raid fights, which is also cheating in the scheme of things. If you think that fights in the current game are too easy, delete your addons and don’t watch instructional videos. Let’s see how long you last that way. If you think that flying makes the game too easy, I invite Blizzard to make uninterrupted flight more difficult. I loathe being knocked off of any mount in game, but if that is what it takes to have access to the parts of the game I’ve paid for, then so be it. Don’t wave your hands and talk about immersion when what you mean is “we want to cut corners.” Don’t make me pay for stuff that you aren’t going to include in the same game I’m still technically playing.

They’re upping the levels to 70 again in Dragonflight after squishing them to 60 from a whopping 120 just two years ago. They don’t appear to have learned their lesson when it comes to just adding more levels onto an existing game, so they’re going to go through the process again and again until they do learn. Leveling in modern games is so streamlined as to beg the question why? Why is this part of the game at all? Just gate content behind other content and let the players progress through content or not as they see fit. What does leveling bring to the game if it doesn’t introduce new spells and teach you how to play your class better during this introduction?

In Shadowlands the leveling to 50 is effortless. Leveling is so effortless that you can easily find it meaningless. I honestly don’t know what purpose leveling serves, I just know that it’s been part of Sword and Sorcery games since Dungeons and Dragons, and leveling there meant more because you had to do all the math yourself. Math so daunting that I never managed to successfully complete a game once I had finally rolled up a character to play, much less achieve top level in the D&D system. Why are we still doing this, putting numbers on levels? Why?

I don’t understand this problem with getting groups together on the one hand, and forcing me to go to random dungeons in order to get through the leveling process more quickly on the other. Why are these the only two options available for organizing groups? Why not allow summoning at meeting stones in all Classic versions of the game just as it is in the retail version? Why not allow people to list themselves for that specific dungeon right at the stone, across all the servers where that dungeon is available? Why must I spam world chat channels looking to complete content that should be completable at level without having to annoy other gamers or buy gold to pay the boosters with? Why do dungeons have to be queued for and run randomly? Why is that the default? Why isn’t the story flow respected? Narrative is key to storytelling. Game developers should respect this basic understanding. Respect the narrative and maybe your player base will do the same.

Why do I have to have different characters to play the same game? That is the most important point I’d like to make. Why is my main character not my main character across all the various flavors of this game that is supposed to be the same game? Why are there servers that split us all up into groups so small we can’t do group content?

Most importantly among this list of suggestions and complaints about the games themselves, there is the culture of the business that my dollars contribute to the continuance of by purchasing the games. Bobby Kotick will get $500 million for handing Activision Blizzard over to Microsoft. I’m not sure that he deserves a dime more than he’s already taken in for himself. Microsoft itself may be a step up for Blizzard even though I consider Microsoft to be one of the least forward thinking of any software or gaming companies that I know of. At least it isn’t known to be a raging cesspool of sexual misconduct and does occasionally produce software that is worth investing in (to this day I remain stuck in the Windows operating system even though I spent a decade trying to get out of it. It just works right out of the box, which is more than I can say for Linux) so this might actually be a good thing for World of Warcraft as a franchise and for the player base as a group. Who knows?

What I do know is that I’m ready to play something else now. I simply don’t know what I will play. I might purchase Dragonflight and I also might not. If I do, I won’t be playing the game at anything close to the amount of time that I have historically invested in the game. One class only. The minimum work in professions necessary to advance to endgame and participate in raids (the only reason I’m there now) I’ll just have to see what the future holds for me and for Microsoft’s treatment of Blizzard properties. What the future holds in the way of new games from people who used to work for Blizzard but now compete with it at new companies.

My gaming world has been dominated by Blizzard games for more than twenty years. I raised my children playing Starcraft, Diablo and World of Warcraft with them. It would be a shame to see the company fall to ruin because of the shortsightedness of the business community, the sexual predation of some men who worked there. In the meantime, I think I have a few other games to get back to that I still haven’t finished yet.

The #NoChanges thing was never actually about avoiding changes; it was about avoiding very specific changes: changes that increase gatekeeping are good; changes that increase accessibility are bad.

massivelyop.com

Don’t Vendor That Trash?

There are grey items needed to buy pets now:

Here is a list of the pets and the trash items needed to buy each:

I cribbed the list from Wowhead comments here and here. Go by and upvote Sjavn and/or Hyrcyne if you found this information useful.

I would say that you can buy pets and other items with grey drops now because Blizzard is tired of people vendoring the grey (formally just trash) items. They think it is fun to mix things up a bit, haven’t you noticed? Change the colors to avoid in raids, put mobs on the roads after telling the newbs to stick to the roads, make trash useful and then have players kick themselves for auto-vendoring stuff that they pick up specifically just to vendor for it’s gold value instead of hand-sorting every single piece of trash they pick up in the game.

That number has to be in the millions of items for the average player that loots trash. I know there are a good number of players that don’t loot trash, or even all the dropped items, because I curse them out when I’m playing a toon that skins and they stop me from skinning by not looting. You can’t skin if the other player doesn’t loot.

If the game developers don’t want us just mindlessly throwing stuff away, maybe they should give us more gold directly and just cut out all the useless flavor trash. The game will be less fun that way but at least I won’t be expected to rummage through dozens of items while keeping (10k? 100k?) uncounted items and their uses in mind while doing the sorting.

Or do the reverse, sell white and blue items that seem like they should be good for something other than just vendoring, but you don’t know for sure unless you check Wowhead first. Oh, that’s just for an achievement. Okay. Like the coins in the Dalaran fountain. At least those were grey and could just be vendored without worry.

In Blizzard’s defense, these trash items are not in the current expansion of the game anyway. You would have had to keep them in your bank since classic to have had all of them and no one could or should have expected you to keep The Stoppable Force in your bank for 15 years. I know I’ve seen the Very Unlucky Rock before. That one is in Draenor. I know this because I frequently go to Wowhead to look up all kinds of useless crap. Crap like “where do I go to find the very unlucky rock that I threw away a dozen times?”

The really difficult vendor purchased pet to grind for in Keeper Ta’hult’s inventory will be the Flawless Amethyst Baubleworm. 10k pet charms? I don’t have more than 2000 pet charms across all my toons on World of Warcraft; which probably shows how little interest I’ve had in pet battling in World of Warcraft since discovering Pokémon GO more than how hard they are to get.

Based on a wowhead draft comment. 300 characters too long.

Why Not UTC?

This is a serious question for the World of Warcraft developers. Why does the calendar in the game stay on server time when the player sets their clock to follow local time? For that matter, why are the servers set to times in particular time zones?

ComputerphileThe Problem with Time & Timezones – Dec 30, 2013

Yes, yes, I know, that’s where the server is or that is time zone that Blizzard wants the player base to identify with or to play from in that region, but why should the players know or care what that time is? Why isn’t all server time set to UTC and if the players don’t want to fuck around with UTC they can set their clocks to local time and the calendar will just update to show those times?

Seems to me the platform can do the math faster and more reliably when it comes to fixing calendar times to UTC rather than having to make each player in a raid group do math each time they want to show up for a raid on time. Or have to remember that their server is in a different time zone than they are every time they look at the calendar to check raid times.

It just seems… stupid.

I’ve never understood why calendaring is treated almost like an afterthought in computers. This has been true in every OS I’ve worked with. The entire Y2K problem came about because of not thinking about the importance of time moving from the future to now to yesterday in a constant stream of increasing numbers.

It is always now on the internet, I guess. Can the calendars at least take what time it is on the player’s screen into account, please?

Apparently not.

Because a Wisconsinite telling a Virginian to meet for raid at 8 pm means two different things.

You do realize that your example completely misses the point, right? Completely, utterly exposes your abject cluelessness on the subject of calendaring and why it’s done, never mind that it skips over the fact that the two people on opposite sides of the country will see the exact same calendar with a time on an event that may or may not correspond with either players time zone and so thusly has no meaning for either of them except to cause them to show up at different times for an event that is probably at another time entirely since server times all changed when the servers were piled together.

UTC on the other hand is exactly what it says it is. Universal Time Code. That is the time everywhere that uses time as we humans have spelled it all out to be. Far from being meaningless it is the time that every clock on every server everywhere uses to extrapolate all the times for all the people who access it, even the sysadmins that dictate what the server times will be.

So again I ask, why are there server times at all in a game that is played worldwide continuously? Why isn’t there just UTC? It’s much simpler and the two players in your example will both know that the server time is incorrect for their local time (unless they live along the prime meridian) and will either change it, which the server software will then correct on the calendar times to match the set local time, or happily do the math every time they want to be on time for raid.

In either case it will be less trouble for everyone involved than the current setup which has the calendar lying about what time your events are if you change your displayed time off of server time. Again, that is almost as dumb as defending its dumbness with an example that is even dumber still. I hope I have rebutted your dumb reply. I await a blue post apologizing for the dumb and promising to fix it forthwith. Either that or the mods will consign this thread to oblivion just as they have done pretty much every other post I’ve ever written here.

Feedback on forums.blizzard.com – January 22, 2022

Step one: use UTC. Okay I’m not going to suddenly say all this advice we’ve been giving for years and years is wrong. UTC is a fine standard to base all your times off of. So use it. Don’t do something silly and change your servers’ timezones from UTC.

zachholman.com

Time Zones

In what is the most bourgeoisie example of the most bourgeoisie era, a bunch of rich, white railroad tycoons met at a fancy Chicago hotel to agree on a standard timezone so their trains would work better together. They used the new-fangled telegraph to synchronize time signals between cities.

zachholman.com

Why are there time zones? Because railroad barons told us there would be time zones and we agreed to their constraints; when what we really wanted was for work to start about two hours after we woke up, and none of us woke up before the sun back then unless someone who couldn’t sleep woke us up with their pacing back and forth.

This is a lot like asking why there is Daylight Saving Time. There is DST because there was this crazy idea about giving us more sunlight in the evenings in the Summer. We change the time back to Standard time in order to make it safer for children to get to school in the morning in the Winter, otherwise most of us have to get up before the sun and go to work and school in the dark.

Short Wave – To Be DST, Or Not To Be. That Is The Question – March 29, 2022

Resulting in a 6% rise in fatal car crashes after the time change in the Spring. Yes, you really are more groggy that first Monday morning. Go easy in traffic. It is entirely possible that the Senate got the time wrong because of dollars. Dollars given to them by lobbyists who wanted there to be more afternoon sunlight for shoppers to spend money in. This was also discussed in SGU #872. They immediately set to arguing about what time the sun comes up and why we can’t just have the sun come up at about whatever time we need to be getting up in the morning.

Now I’m even more convinced that most people really don’t understand time or how it works. I’m for just going UTC everywhere. If cities want to have city times they can do a UTC offset for their cities. That way Austin can have the sun come up bright and early at 10:00 am every morning and those crazy fucks on Wall Street can have it come up at 6:00 am as they are running to work. It’s really still just UTC and no one will care except the people who are deluded enough to think they can control what time it is. Besides, when it gets to be time not found time again (4:04) it means that I really should be asleep.

This rant is still not finished.

Anduin-Sylvanas Cutscene

Sylvanas – Anduin Maw Cutscenes

I watched this cutscene and thought what bullshit. Anduin is appealing to Sylvanas‘ conscience? The woman who turned a dying elf to face her home tree so that she could watch while Sylvanas torched her entire family?

Zombies are as zombies do, and Sylvanas has always been that Sylvanas. Saurfang‘s challenge of Mak’Gora exposed her, but she was that way all the way back to the beginning when she was the architect of the blight that would destroy all life, a plot she blamed on underlings after the plot failed at Angrathar.

She is a rogue, an agent that works at her own games, games that are never fully exposed to the observer. I don’t know what her game actually is at this point, but if Blizzard has Sylvanas give into conscience and transparently sacrifice herself to save Anduin from the Jailer? If that is what Sylvanas’ storyline has been leading up to, then I am seriously disappointed in Blizzard.

Postscript

I found the above in my drafts. I jotted those sentences down immediately on watching the cutscene in-game. Bellular’s gushing about it when I went looking for the specific scene (which I still can’t find online) almost made my physically ill. I was pissed. Now that everyone who is playing has witnessed the end of the Shadowlands expansion, I can publish this without worrying about spoilers. I’m more annoyed than I am pissed about the finalized story arc. I mean, okay, soulwarping. It happened to Uther so sure, it could happen to Sylvanas. Why does she think she hasn’t been following, hasn’t been obeying, hasn’t been serving, when all that she’s done for the entire time since being made into a banshee by Frostmourne has been by the design of the Jailer/Zovaal?

Okay, okay. Most of us don’t know we’re following predetermined paths, paths that we set ourselves on earlier in life and never notice we’re on unless we are forced to change them, but still. “I will never serve”? The lady doth protest too much, methinks. There are cutscenes missing from the video I found to embed above.

World of WarcraftShattered Legacies – Shadowlands In-Game Cinematic Dec 8, 2021

This cutscene is the best for the whole expansion, possibly the best of all of the sixteen years of World of Warcraft’s existence. Second runner up is this scene of Anduin finding the strength to throw off Zovaal’s control by channeling the valor and honor of the two other people who wielded his father’s sword.

youtube

At least they took the taste of that first cutscene out of my mouth.

Shadowlands: Making Hell Less Hellish?

I asked for one thing and one thing only for Christmas in 2019. I wanted the family to buy a copy of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands and give it to me as a gift, because there wasn’t much else I wanted and I knew I’d be buying and playing the game anyway.

Raid nights in World of Warcraft have become the modern equivalent of the 1960-1970’s bowling nights that my parents set their calendars by. Raiding is my excuse to go out and talk to friends organized around a common goal. WoW is one of my religions, in other words.

…and I treat it like most people treat their religion. There is a lot of stuff in there that I don’t do, but I show up for the big gatherings so that I can pretend I’m part of the thing that is greater than I am by myself. Myself as a middling average MMO player. Try killing a raid boss by yourself and tell me how easy it is if you don’t think raiding doesn’t make you part of something greater than yourself. On second thought, don’t tell me. I won’t believe you anyway.

For fifteen years leading up to this point in the lore that World of Warcraft is based on, I’ve been telling fellow players Sylvanas wants to be the next Lich King.” I’ve been waiting for the day when she would approach the Frozen Throne of the Lich King to take the helm of domination from the creature that had once been Bolvar Fordragon. As it turns out, I was wrong. This is revealed in the trailer for Shadowlands:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4gBChg6AII

It was after watching this trailer that I decided I would just go ahead and get someone to pre-purchase a copy of the game for me. The family even sprang for the collector’s edition and got me a unique mount, transmog, pets and hearthstone. Then the wait began. A longer wait than there ever had been between two expansions in the history of the game. They even truncated the final story arch for Battle for Azeroth because they really needed the programmers to focus on ironing out the bugs in Shadowlands.

Shadowlands Developer Update with John Hight and Ion Hazzikostas Liveblog posted 2020/07/08

It was a grand scheme that they were setting themselves to achieve, and I cheered them all the way to the finish line. When the pre-patch rolled out I started leveling alternate characters for the first time since Warlords of Draenor, and started my first new toons from level one since Pandaria. That is how daunting the level grind from 1 to 90, 100, 110 and 120 was. It was hard enough in Wrath just getting to 80, and the level grind on foot in Classic World of Warcraft is interminable. But then, Classic WoW was about the role-playing and not about the endgame. Not for the average players.

In Shadowlands the leveling to 50 is effortless. It is so effortless that you can easily find it meaningless. At least it is doable in a few days time now, and you can create as many characters as you need without having to invest a month on each one leveling to max. This is important because every expansion of the game since the Classic game was introduced in 2004 has been centered around endgame play and the multiplayer (maximum of 30 players) raids that are part of the endgame. The players are so focused on the endgame that most of them only play the other content in the game to the extent that they are required to play it in order to be allowed to get into raids. They set clocks, and then race to max level, never stopping to enjoy the sights along the way.

Not me. I am a true Austinite. I am a slacker. As a slacker, I’m going to progress at exactly the speed required to get to where I want to be by the time I’m supposed to get there. So I waited for the game to release. Patiently, and then impatiently, and then finally really, really hoping that it would come out soon.

“You have our commitment that we will be releasing Shadowlands this fall,” executive producer John Hight announced today, “even if we end up shipping it from our homes.”

eurogamer.net

As luck would have it, I was on the tail-end end of a 30 hour manic bender when the game went live on Tuesday October 27, 2020. Because of that I was completely out of sorts through the first intro sequence in the game. It was longer than most of the other expansion’s introductions, and smacked of being lead by Khadgar through the perils of Draenor under the control of Garrosh’s Iron Horde. This was not boding well for me, because Warlords of Draenor is hands down my least favorite of the World of Warcraft expansions, and was the largest contributor towards my taking a hiatus from the game for a year of Legion.

I decided to get some sleep and start fresh the next day, but I have to say that even with fresh eyes, I wasn’t very impressed with the styling of the game. You start off in the Maw, most players least favorite region to play in (more on that in a bit) it is the Shadowlands version of hell, and it is familiarly hellish in that most of the architecture appears to be drawn straight from early models of Diablo I, II & III (I hear Diablo IV is on the drawing board now, too) The Jailer’s attempts a being ominous are mildly convincing if not clearly contrived.

You of course escape hell er, the Maw, and then find you have been transported to the part of the afterlife that isn’t Hell. Again, there is a vague familiarity about the creatures that is reassuring if not slightly tedious. I’m not sure what to expect from a game I’ve been playing for over a decade that keeps insisting on changing while at the same time staying essentially the same.

The first character that you take through the content is required to engage with the content directly by playing through the various regions of the afterlife. Mercifully you are allowed to skip this tour with all characters after the first one. I didn’t get interested in the story until reaching Ardenweald, the fourth of five new areas that you must play through, where I intended to spend as much time as possible in the game. Since I play druids as my main characters, being in the nature zone of Ardenweald seems perfectly fitting for the headcanon that I’ve set up and still desperately try to maintain for my characters. Going to the final zone and meeting the villain that will be the final boss in the first Shadowlands raid was almost an anticlimax after spending time romping around Ardenweald in my druid’s stag travel form, picking flowers (herbalist) and making potions (alchemist).

The developers are of course keeping us on the ground yet again in this expansion. I’ve resigned myself to flightlessness in new expansions, although I bridle at being lectured about flying by blue angels that can’t seem to figure out what wings are for themselves. There are fractured ground structures that have to be navigated in order to do anything in game, and no road leads directly anywhere, if you can find a road at all, another designer ploy that is tiresomely consistent across every game I play these days. If only we could fly. If only.

I don’t think they understand the level of frustration that their mazes induce in people who can get lost going from the front door of their house to the bathroom. But then the developers clearly aren’t designing the game for nearly sixty year-old Meniere’s sufferers with dysgraphia either. For us there is TomTom. Learn it, love it, live and die by it.

I don’t know who these blue angels are. Bastion? What is Bastion? Ah, the ferryman on the river Styx have moved up to angel status. Okay, I’ll accept that, even if I can’t figure out why I would submit to having my memories pulled out of my ears and then be set to the task of ferrying souls for an eternity. It’s a purpose, I guess. If I find a class that will need to stay there in order to make them most effective for endgame play, I will take the time to figure out the why of that area’s story.

Maldraxxus is a little harder to deal with. Too much slime, not enough honor to be the Valhalla it is trying to pretend it is. More of Hel’s undead (especially looking like Hel’s army in Thor: Ragnarok) than of Odin’s Valhalla, and we’ve seen what that looks like in Legion. This touches on a major objection that I’ve heard more than once about this expansion. We already know about the afterlife in the universe that Warcraft is set in, don’t we? The Loa? The Light? It’s almost like they tacked on the bits that were established afterlife lore in the previous versions of the game as an afterthought in this expansion, making the Loa into natural demigods that are beneath the notice of the Winter Queen (not this Winter Queen) and the elementals don’t even figure into the afterlife at all. Which is odd, since they are spirits. The Light shows up in Bastion somewhere, so I’ve heard.

Maldraxxus and its central battle arena is just more of that glory of endless battle bullshit that teenagers think is fun. What is the point of this? On the other hand, the House of the Chosen offers the first bit of hope that I might find some tidbit of storyline to hang onto in Maldraxxus, but then only if that means I get to vacuum up all the slime and get to straighten all the walls so they are perfectly vertical again. Giving a druid a runesword? Yeah, that makes sense. Glad I didn’t have to keep the cursed thing. If I ever get around to playing Deathknights again, they’ll enjoy the hell out of Maldraxxus.

Revendreth, the fifth and final area of Shadowlands that you visit, and its ruler Sire Denathrius, both look like they come out of old English fiction. A sort of blend of Elric of Melnibone and the background lore of every vampire novel ever written, with a little bit of the Prisoner thrown in as flavoring. I really don’t know what to say about this region. It is the only part of the afterlife that vaguely makes sense in relation to the rest of World of Warcraft lore, and that only because it seems to tie into story arcs that have been developing in the background since the beginning:

BellularGamingThe ANCIENT Dreadlord Scheme Revealed – Sep 15, 2020

…But then the Dreadlords never seemed to fit into the rest of the lore that was set out for Warcraft or World of Warcraft. Where they came from and what they were was never quite clear. Apparently it will be made clear in this expansion, if game lore is your thing. Look for the Lost Journal in Revendreth to find the book Enemy Infiltration – Preface and read it for yourself.

The important part of this entire story (for me anyway) can be summed up in a few short sentences. The raid fights are new and interesting and include fight mechanics that have not been part of fights in previous expansions of World of Warcraft. Both silly and difficult, they offer a diversion to players who are looking for multiplayer challenges to make their lives more meaningful. At least that part of the game lived up to expectations. I would be pretty bored if it didn’t.

Mythic Trap: Castle Nathria Raid

As I get back into raiding again after being forced out of my weekly routines by having to do without electricity and water for almost a week here in Austin, the news arrives that Blizzard is once again changing the game that they never can seem to just leave well enough alone:

In an interview with Polygon prior to BlizzConline’s opening ceremony, Feasel and Frank Kowalkowski, World of Warcraft’s technical director, spoke about how The Maw will expand and evolve in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands’ upcoming 9.1 patch, Chains of Domination. The Maw is about to become a warzone, ironically making it a much safer place for the Champions of Azeroth.

polygon.com (spoilers)

Making hell less hellish kinda defeats the point of hell. Expecting people to want to spend time in hell? That is where Blizzard went off the rails. Killing demons in Diablo by the dozens with a single strike is what makes that version of hell entertaining for some people. Why you go back after defeating the Devil the first time? That is the question that needs answering here.

Still, turning the Maw into a warzone? Okay, that might prove to be interesting enough to make me give it a second pass now. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime I’ll be over in Ardenweald trying to earn the reputation for my Winter Queen’s court. Oh, and also grinding reputation with the Avowed so that I can help make shadestones for those expensive raid cauldrons that we have to set out twice a night.

Be seeing you.”

Eternity vs. Finality

“Join us in undeath” she said, in a quavering voice. It was definitely a female voice. I was just as sure that I had misheard her.

“Beg pardon?” I asked.

“Give in to the truth.” she whispered. “Join us in undeath.”

“I’m afraid I can’t understand you. Are you saying you are not alive? Then how are you speaking?”

“Many things speak that have not life.” The voice replied. “Do the rocks not shout their permanence at you? Does the water not speak of eternal motion? Is it so hard to believe in undeath?”

“Well, since you put it that way” I said “why don’t the things that speak as you suggest not use words that I can understand?”

“Can you not understand permanence? Can you not comprehend endless motion?”

“I began and I will end.” I said. “That is the truth that I know. What can I really know of permanence? What temporary being can comprehend eternity? I can grasp the concepts. I can’t really know the meaning.”

“Then join us.” The voice repeated. “Join us in undeath.”

“Let’s say I believe you are undead.” I replied. “What does that mean? Do you have substance? I can’t see you.”

“We are all around you. You cannot see us because your impermanence will not let you see. You have but to speak assent, and you will be one of us.”

“I will assume then that you do have substance. Are you confined within that substance forever? Or can you change what you are?”

“We are not water and we are not rocks. We are neither permanence nor fluidity. We are undeath.”

“Ah. So you are defined by what you are not. You are the alternative to death?”

“We are undeath”

“Yes. I think we’ve established that fact.”

“Do not mock that which you cannot understand.”

“No offense intended. I beg your pardon ma’am. I just want to know why this choice is being offered to me now?”

“All who face death are offered this choice at their moment of transition.”

“You mean my time is up then?” I hadn’t thought about where or when I was until this very moment. Where was I? It wasn’t home, wherever this place was. It was too… fuzzy. Worse than my usual myopia. Were those my bookshelves? No. No, mine were not that large. Or were they smaller than mine? Were they even shelves? Bars, maybe? It was so damn hard to see. Where were my glasses? I started to reach out and realized that I had no arms. I didn’t have legs either, now that I tried to move those. They were simply not present. I started to panic. “What has happened to my body? Where am I?”

“Your people have many names for this place. The place of transition? Translation? Perhaps you wait for the ferryman? Purgatory? It is hard to say what concept that you would find meaningful in its description. It is the place of gathering. It is the place of weighing and judging. All come here before taking their place in the universe.”

“My wife and children? Are they here too?”

“All come here before taking their place.”

“Are they here now?”

“All come here before taking their place.”

“Can I see them? Can I talk to them?”

“This is your time and place. Yours and yours alone. Choose now.”

“All right then. What are my choices?”

“Ending or remaining are your choices. Choose.”

I contemplated existence. It had been a good life. She was beautiful, my wife. Maybe not beautiful to other people, but beautiful to me. She showed up just when I needed her in life, and stayed with me through all the ups and downs. We had beautiful children. They grew and moved on and had their own children.

I had work that had been rewarding. I had made the world a better place, I hoped anyway. It had been a good life. “What is there here that would make me want to stay here?” I asked.

“There is continued existence.” The voice said. It sounded impatient now. Demanding. “You will not cease to be and will continue on as you are now. Choose.”

I surveyed my existence. I couldn’t really see. There was little to hear other than the voice. What feeling there was was vague, but not unpleasant. It was a feeling like the edge of sleep. I could go on dreaming like this forever if I wanted. Surveying the landscape of my past life, possibly glancing other times and worlds. “Is this all that there is here?” I asked.

“Choose.” said the voice. It was definitely impatient now.

I wanted to see Terry again. I wanted to see her and Susan and Bill. To see them and their kids. I wanted to see mom and dad again, though they have been dead for years now. Now? What is now anyway? Eternal presence? I wanted to see my grandparents again, lost to me so long ago that their faces are blurred by time itself. I wanted to live, but living was over. Living was not a choice that I had now.

“Let me go,” I said.

“The choice has been made.” said the voice.

There was a blinding light. I blinked my eyes. There was a field in front of me. In the distance I could see Terry and the kids, and their kids in front of them. Behind them was mom and dad and their parents and their parents, parents waiting. Waiting in a field of flowers.

I had made the right choice. I ran to them with open arms and they opened their arms for me in anticipation. “I’m free,” I thought. “I’m fr…”

Afterword

This is the kind of thing that sprouts up in your head after you’ve spent a solid 36 hours straight turning other players and non-player characters into zombies during the pre-patch event for Shadowlands. Featured image is a screencap from the Shadowlands cinematic trailer.

Summer Doldrums

I haven’t felt like writing, or even up to the attempt at writing, for more than a week now. I don’t know why. It could be my allergies. It could be the tinnitus that is making even listening to podcasts extremely hard. I did manage to finish reading my first physical book in several years. I will write about that experience soon, I hope. I hope I’ll feel up to reading another book soon, too.

I’ve been playing a lot of Horizon: Zero Dawn lately.

That is all I’ve been doing, aside from reading. I haven’t even managed to get online to run with my guild in World of Warcraft. Sinuses feel like they are going to pop out of my head. Sick to my stomach with something, probably just the Irritable Bowel Syndrome acting up.

It is even possible that it is the summer doldrums affecting me in ways that I’m unaccustomed to. I haven’t felt this lethargic at this time of year since 2015. The sum total of all these complaints means I’m on hiatus for the foreseeable future. I’ll see you all when I see you.

10 Stacks of Determination

My raiding guild went into Uldir to get the achievement Glory of the Uldir Raider. I just happened to be free that night, so I tagged along for the experience. Like most meta achievements, this one grants a new in-game mount that you can show off to people who aren’t lucky enough to be part of a successful raiding guild.

All of the achievements that are required to get the raid-wide meta were pretty straightforward. We only had to reset the boss (pulling them out of the room the fight is supposed to occur in usually achieves this goal) a few times in order to get all of them, and so we ended up with the mount at the end of the day’s run.

On the last boss (G’huun – wowhead, blizzardwatch) several people voiced the opinion that they hated that fight. I know why they hate it. It is a fiddling, unforgiving fight when it comes to getting the mechanics down correctly. You have to understand how far you can throw the power matrix in the fight. You have to know which ground effects do what, where to stand and which effects can be damaged and removed by you. You have to know which adds to focus on and when. It is a complex fight.

I love that fight. I love it because the fight can’t be bulldozed. It is frustrating and it is unforgiving, and I love it. I love it either in spite of or because of the fact that I could reliably be summoned into that fight in Looking for Raid (LFR) when it was the end of progression in Battle for Azeroth, the current expansion for World of Warcraft. I love it because if you simply understand the mechanics of the fight and can execute them correctly, you can defeat the boss without too much trouble. Most probably I love it because most World of Warcraft players hate it, and would rather quit raiding than have to work that hard to defeat a boss.

In LFR, G’huun was a test of fire. We went through thousands of players in the cumulative months that G’huun was the last boss in the expansion, thousands of players joining and quitting while I and the other determined players just waited for that right random group of newbs to come along that could understand that the fight wasn’t about killing the boss. It was about satisfying the mechanics of the fight so that you could get the privilege of facing off against the boss. Dozens of newbs at a time would show up and complain not this boss, and then bail out.

Some of them had done the boss before that week. I know there was a few times I was one of them. When I was tanking on my Druids Tarashal or Tharthurm, I almost never got to kill the first boss of that wing of the raid before having to tank G’huun, the final boss. Tanks never have to wait to get into a raid. Almost never. No one ever wants to tank and few players want to heal. I play Druids most often these days precisely because I can fulfill any required role in the fight. Taunting, damaging, or keeping players alive. I don’t really care which role I get to fulfill just as long as I get to play.

It is those others, those players that only want to play characters that can inflict damage that are the bane of LFR. If you play a class that can only deal damage, your queues are anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, just waiting to be summoned into an instance. And yet, after having to wait an hour they would see it was the last boss and not the first one, and they would bail on the fight. Half of those players could have done at least one of the other two roles in the fight, but refused to take that kind of responsibility, thusly making the damage queues even longer by not checking off the box that says “yes I’ll heal” or “yes I’ll tank”. It is those players disgust at having to do something complex that they didn’t want to have to learn, even though they clicked on the raid finder and signed up to do that raid. Their disgust at having to do that fight one more time. It gave me an inner glow.

ranthonyings

When I said I loved this fight in raid chat that night with my raiding guild, I misspoke. I said that I kicked thousands of players from the fight and that was why I loved it. I probably only initiated kicks on dozens of players. Trolls. Elitists. Whining complainers. I kicked dozens of those. Shut up and do your job or leave. It is really just that simple.

Uncomfortable conversations.

Uncomfortable conversations are why I don’t like talking as much as I like writing. I kicked dozens of players for saying things like this fight is easy. For castigating healers for letting them die. For blaming the tanks for wipes, especially when I wasn’t the tank. If I’m tanking, and someone says you suck I just leave the group. This is especially true if we’ve killed a boss or wiped on a boss previously in the group. If you’ve done either of those in the group before you leave, you can leave without getting the 30 minute coward debuff. Tanks get right back in another raid, so why stay where you aren’t wanted? Aside from which, the group you just left will wait an hour for another tank to show up. Waiting through dozens of trolls that get bored and pull the boss just for kicks, or in the mistaken belief that 10 stacks of determination would give them the buff they needed to beat the boss. I’ve met a few of those in this expansion. 10 stacks of determination and we can beat him! Not this boss.

It was when I was tossing power matrixes on Benelbur that I realized I loved the fight. There were several times I would be sitting alone with that Gnome Mage just waiting for twenty-four other players to show back up and try again. There was one time when we had the smoothest crew on power matrixes and we couldn’t get a tank that could deal with the complexity of the fight down on the floor. We went through three sets of tanks before we had one guy who was well geared enough to do it alone, and we knew we could get the origination beam to fire and the real fight to begin. That made all those hours of work that day worth the trouble. I made new friends that day, as I did most days when I found someone else who was willing to take the time to master a task for the sheer pleasure of it.

Those were my best friends when I was drafting for a living, too. Those people who were not afraid of learning CAD. People who were not threatened by something new they didn’t understand. Those people are treasures to me. They don’t need ten additional stacks of determination because they were born with ten stacks of their very own. Just point them in the right direction and get out of the way, because they will figure out what needs to be done and get it done if you simply give them the space to do it in.

An Empty Heart

I’ve known a simple fact about MMO programmers for awhile now. They don’t understand why people have more than one toon to play in the first place. In their eyes, you play your one character and you only play that one character. You are, after all, only one person. One player.

As if any of us is really only one thing all the time.

They may understand a player wanting to be self-sufficient in gameplay, but it is their goal to keep you from being self-sufficient. They want you to trade with other characters directly or buy off the auction house. If you are a regular raider you will end up relying on your guildmates to help you because you will have no choice. The programmers and developers want it to be this way; and really, MMO stands for Massively Multiplayer Online. There is no point in dealing with strangers in a game if you can do everything yourself. If you can generate the food, potions, gear, gems and enchants all on your own then there is no working economy in the MMO, and the game will eventually die from a lack of players.

Getting beyond the simple desire to provide what you need to play without having to spend precious gold to do it, there are other reasons to play alternate characters (alts) than wanting to be able to max out all your professions and flood the auction house with goods that other players will have to buy from you. Sometimes you just want to be someone else in the game. And that someone else has to be capable of playing at the level that your other character plays at in order to be of any use to your friends that you have to rely on.

…and that observation brings me to the subject of this post. In the last World of Warcraft expansion, Legion, they introduced a new type of gear that was permanently equipped. It was called an artifact, and in Legion the artifact item was your weapon. You got that weapon at the beginning of the expansion and carried it to the end of the expansion, upgrading it as you went along. The linear nature of the item and the requirement that it had to be uniquely upgraded for each character essentially kept players from leveling any alt characters that could rival their first/main toons in power and ability in-game, without spending the exact same amount of time working on each and every alt that you wanted to level.

When Blizzard introduced Battle for Azeroth (BfA) they destroyed the special powers of our artifact weapons, rendering them useless aside from the ability to transmogrify their unique appearances onto our new weapons (I especially like the blue and cinnamon bear models for druids) and they introduced the new artifact that we would be using for the entire BfA expansion, the Heart of Azeroth. That artifact has a similar leveling system to the one that was in the weapons in Legion, without all the unique appearances that made leveling up your artifact in Legion something that you enjoyed doing.

Since there is no player reward for leveling the artifact, there has been a lot of complaining about the limitations that the Heart of Azeroth and the azerite system imposes on players, and the additional work that goes into leveling each and every alt through the exact same grind that each player has done on their main toon.

I skipped most of Legion, so I didn’t spend a lot of time working on and gaining abilities with my artifact weapons before they took them away from us. I also didn’t notice that the azerite system in the Heart of Azeroth was really any different than the grinding that was required to level weapons in Legion. I do miss my alternate characters and I haven’t taken the time to level alts in any real shape or form since Mists of Pandaria ended. Since Warlords of Draenor bored me into playing different games for over a year.

So this is me, dusting off my keyboard for a little bit of reflection on the subject of artificial limitations and the programmers that think we can’t see them out there setting limits on us.

Back in the day, I wrote quite a few pieces on this subject. I wrote one on endgame materials scarcity in Wrath of the Lich King. In Cataclysm I mused on the quandary of Murglesnout and marveled at the amount of materials it took to make a single trinket for my inscriptionatrix. During those brief span of years I managed to get myself kicked off the forums multiple times by moderators intent on maintaining the illusion that the game was fun, fun, fun! all the time.

I last ventured onto the forum during the great #NoFlyNoBuy revolt, where I penned a piece titled Flight Has Always Been a Perk; An Example of Confirmation Bias. After the end of Warlords of Draenor, as Legion was being rolled out, I got fed up with the design philosophy of the developers at Blizzard and decided to take a year off of World of Warcraft.

When I came back to the game at the end of Legion, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t take the game seriously anymore. I deleted half my characters in order to prove to myself that I was serious about not taking the game seriously. If the developers at Blizzard decided not to put flight into the game, well, that was the game I was playing when I signed up. If they decided that you had to work three hours a day, every day, just to keep up in the game, well, that was the game I was playing. Admittedly, I don’t spend more than my subscription fee to stay in the game anymore, so my gifts to Blizzard for their content has dropped off a bit since I first subscribed back at the end of Burning Crusade.

This is me, trying not to take the fun things in life seriously. But still, I think it bears mentioning that I would have a lot more fun in the game if I just could play my alts at the same level that my main toon can play without having to spend months of additional work building their artifacts up to the level that my main is at.

This week Blizzard introduced what they are calling the Echoes of Ny’alotha system into Battle for Azeroth, making it possible for players to purchase the essences they have earned on their mains for the (empty) Heart of Azeroth on their alts. The most common response to players who rebel at being asked to spend even more time in-game grinding on content is,

What? Do you want free gear then?

Now that you mention it, yes. Free gear would be nice. I really don’t see why we are required to re-level alt gear through several layers of endgame content just to be able to play with our friends. But wanting free gear is beside the point here. Essences for the Heart of Azeroth artifact are not gear. The Heart of Azeroth does take up a gear slot on your character (your necklace) but it is not gear in the normal sense of gameplay anymore than the Legion weapons were gear in the normal sense. Most of us have been working on leveling the Heart of Azeroth for two years. It isn’t something you can just replace with a better piece of gear when it happens to drop in dungeons or raids or quests.

Essences serve the same purpose that relics served in Legion weapons. Unlike Legion relics, essences are assembled through specific actions by the player and are a permanent part of the Heart of Azeroth. In other words, essences are not gear that drops and you can equip or replace them as you desire. They are more like talents that you can select after you have enabled them. For as long as World of Warcraft is called Battle for Azeroth, the essences will be part of your Heart of Azeroth.

Essences are the key to being able to do your job in a raid setting, and some of us want to raid on more than one toon. Asking people to work through content they have already done, on toons they no longer want to play, to get essences they’ve already earned once, is insulting. Blizzard should just make the damn things account wide. The way they should have been treated from the beginning of BfA.

If there is one reason I don’t play alts in BfA, this is it. This was true for Legion as I mentioned previously. I can’t just get on an alt and play when I want to play an alt. I have to grind through lower level content, or even more of the same content I’m already playing, in order to play the alt and do the other thing I wanted to do with it if that other thing requires that I be competitive.

Blizzard insists that their new currency system allows essences to be account-wide. There still aren’t account-wide essences if I have to buy them after working to get them on one toon. I can’t believe that real people are applauding this new currency system. If I have a 120 toon, all the essences I’ve earned on other toons should be available to that toon. Like pets are, like toys are, like mounts are and, oh yeah, like heirloom gear is! those things really are account-wide. Why should I have to work to gain the things again at all? I’ve already done it once.

I have other games I’d rather be playing, will be playing. I don’t need to be given more work to do in game in order to be able to play the parts of the game I want to play. If I’m starting over, then I have other games I am neglecting that I probably should start instead.